Poetry competitions, and a little quantum

I recently entered two different poetry competitions on the Internet. One called for limericks specifically, while the other was open to short poetry of any form, but I entered limericks for both because I like limericks. And in one competition (but not the other), I won a prize!

The one I didn’t win was hosted on Lynne Murphy’s blog, Seperated by a Common Language, and the prize was a book on British vs American culture. To enter, you had to write a limerick illustrating a potential misunderstanding between speakers of British and American English.

My entry plays on the different meanings of the verb table (as in “table a motion”), which in British committee-speak means to make something available for discussion, but in American committee-speak means to stop making it available for discussion and get on with discussing something else instead. It also follows in the long tradition of intentionally incomplete limericks — i.e. where the joke lies in the fact that one or more lines are missing. Here it is:

“This limerick must quickly be written!”
Said the visiting member from Britain.
So in need of more minds
He tabled four lines -

(Give it time to sink in, if you need to.) I didn’t expect to win. Examined closely it doesn’t really work, because tabling is more an action of the committee as a whole, not of an individual member. The winning poem was written by Richard English.

The competition where I did win a prize was easier, because there were fewer competitors and multiple copies of the prize. That prize is an uncorrected galley proof of Chad Orzel’s upcoming book, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, and the competition, which took place on Chad’s blog, involved writing a short poem on the theme of physics and dogs.  The plot thickened after The Digital Cuttlefish entered the competition, creating a scenario reminiscent of that bit from Terry Pratchett about how the purpose of the Witch Trials is to find out who comes second after Granny Weatherwax.

In the end, Chad decided to give out two caption prizes and two poetry prizes, and I was one of the winners! (The other, of course, was the Cuttlefish.) Here is my entry:

A dog who seeks morsels organic
Such as bunnies that run when they panic
Must be fast and observing
And strong and deserving
And informed about quantum mechanic.

Looking forward to that prize.

That’s all I have to say about the poetry competitions, but while we’re discussing quantum mechanics, it seems an opportune time to share something from my university days —namely an assignment I wrote in the year 2000 for the subject Advanced Professional English (the same subject for which I wrote this), on the subject of quantum computers.

The assignment involved writing an article suitable for publication in a magazine, and identifying the type of magazine it is suitable for. In my case, I tried to write about quantum computers in a style suitable for a mass market computer magazine (the sort that more typically contains reviews of newly-released software). The article was accompanied by an analysis of the writing process (covering, among other things, how the target audience influences the appropriate style and content), a list of references, and a copy of the email I got back from a physicist I consulted. I won’t reproduce the supplementary materials here, but I’m willing to refer to them in the comments.

Bear in mind that this was written almost a decade ago, and by a humble not-yet-blogger who never studied physics beyond First Year. I haven’t kept up with it at all, but physics has moved on since then. For one thing, the emphasis now seems to be less “how many particles can you entangle?“, and more “how long can you keep them that way?“. Also, a few more catchphrases such as “decoherence” have trickled down to the popular science books.

Comments from physicists are welcome, from assurances that I have nothing to be embarrassed about to interesting information about the developments of the last ten years.

quantum1 quantum2 quantum3

quantum4 quantum5

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5 Responses to “Poetry competitions, and a little quantum”

  1. June Casagrande Says:

    Congratulations! I love the poem. I love how it so succinctly calls to mind all the incredibly complex processes that go into the simple act of a dog chasing a rabbit.

    Awesome!

  2. John Cowan Says:

    Here’s the classic set of three, in case you don’t know them:

    There was an old man from Peru,
    Whose limericks stopped at line two.

    There was an old man from Verdun,

    (The last one is about the Emperor Nero, but it’s not possible to actually quote it.)

  3. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    June – that’s one way of looking at it, but in my mind it’s merely a reference to the book, in which the dog is always trying to catch rabbits and squirrels using amusingly misunderstood physics.

    John – In the version I learned, it was a young girl from Peru rather than an old man, but publishers modify details like that as a matter of course.

  4. Meera Says:

    Thank you for the tip about Chad’s book, which has just gone on my library hold list, and a belated congratulations on the poem! A dear friend of mine is also a limerick-lover/writer. He calls them “lime-rickeys,” after the American drink which may or may not be familiar to British ears. ;)

  5. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    Or Australian ears, for that matter. :-) It rings a faint bell, but nothing more.


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